During a major overhaul of British imperial policy following the Napoleonic Wars, an escaped convict reinvented himself as an improbable activist, renowned for his exposes of government misconduct and corruption in the Cape Colony and New South Wales. Charting scandals unleashed by the man known variously as Alexander Loe Kaye and William Edwards, Imperial Underworld offers a radical new account of the legal, constitutional and administrative transformations that unfolded during the British colonial order of the 1820s. In a narrative rife with daring jail breaks, infamous agents provocateurs, and allegations of sexual deviance, Professor Kirsten McKenzie argues that such colourful and salacious aspects of colonial administrations cannot be separated from the real business of political and social change. The book instead highlights the importance of taking gossip, paranoia, factional infighting and political spin seriously to show the extent to which ostensibly marginal figures and events influenced the transformation of the nineteenth-century British Empire.
Kirsten McKenzie studied at the University of Cape Town. She completed her doctorate as a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, and joined the History Department of the University of Sydney in 2002. She employs the perspectives of cultural history to ask questions about the relationship between identity, social status and political liberties in the early nineteenth-century British Empire. Her publications include Scandal in the Colonies: Sydney and Cape Town, 1820-1850 (2004) and A Swindler's Progress: Nobles and Convicts in the Age of Liberty (2009). She is co-editor with Robert Aldrich of The Routledge History of Western Empires (2013). Scandal in the Colonies was awarded the Max Crawford Medal by the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2004. A Swindler's Progress, described in the Sydney Morning Herald as 'one of the most riveting books of the year' (18 December 2009), was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards (non-fiction prize) in 2010 and the Prime Minister's Prize for the best work of Australian history in 2011.
Introduction: 'a soul reared in the lap of liberty'; 1. 'Plausible and audacious frauds': the theatre of imperial politics and reform; 2. 'A daemon behind the curtain': reputation, parliamentary politics and political spin; 3. Green-bag-makers and blood-hunters: information management and espionage; 4. 'In return for services rendered': liberated Africans or prize(d) slaves?; 5. 'The dishonorable Court of Gothamites': corrupting abolition; 6. 'Under the cloak of liberty': seditious libel, state security and the rights of 'free-born Englishmen'; 7. 'Unruly subjects': political removal and the problem of colonial constitutions; 8. 'A conspiracy of the darkest and foulest nature': the placard affair; 9. Bring up the body: the many escapes of 'Alexander Edwards'; Epilogue: 'an infamous end'.